Photo of 2 kids playing with the caption, ADHD tips: adaptations to help an active child

ADHD Tips: Adaptations to Help an Active Child

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Some children are just more active, distractible, and impulsive than others. Children with these symptoms may be evaluated for and diagnosed with ADHD. This condition is brain-based and NOT the result of poor parenting or a lack of effort. Children will benefit from adequate exercise and adaptations that meet their attention and movement needs. These ADHD tips are appropriate for children who have an ADHD diagnosis or similar symptoms.


Exercise is particularly beneficial for children who have ADHD. Heijer et al. (2017) reviewed research literature regarding exercise and ADHD and found that exercise improves:

  • executive functions (such as reducing impulsivity)
  • cognitive functions
  • response times
  • attention
  • behavior
  • socio-emotional functions (i.e., feelings of well-being, peer relationships, etc.)

How much exercise?

According to the CDC, all children need at least 60 minutes of aerobic activity every day. Jumping, riding bikes, swimming, running, brisk walking, and climbing on playground equipment are some of the ways exercise can be included in a child’s day. ADHD Tips for active children include getting enough exercise; however, children with ADHD or similar symptoms may need more then the 60 minute minimum.


Educational adaptations are changes that allow the child to access instructional content according to their individual needs. Accommodations and modifications are both kinds of adaptations. Adaptations that 1) changing the presentation, 2) change the requirements, and/or 3) provide the child with movement opportunities may allow the child better access to the content covered during learning activities.

Change the presentation

  • Use hands-on activities and approaches when possible
  • Vary the presentation format (short videos, books, etc.)

Change the requirements

  • Shorten assignments and activities as needed to match the child’s attention capabilities

Provide accommodations that allow the child the movement he/she needs

  • Allow movement and exercise during activities when possible
  • Provide frequent movement breaks between activities

Tools and devises that increase movement opportunities

*Disclaimer: The following tools and devises are ones I have come across both personally as a mother and professionally as a special education teacher; however, I am not an occupational therapist (OT). My suggested options are not meant to replace the professional advise of an OT. Please consult an OT for individualized recommendations and safety precautions. In other words, consult an OT and/or use the suggested items at your own risk.

    • A sit disk can be placed on a chair. This will allow the child to wobble and move without raising the chair legs off of the floor. One side is smooth and the other has some texture. The side up will depend on what is more comfortable for each individual child.
    • An exercise ball can be used instead of a chair. The ball allows for bouncing and movement during desk- or table-based activities. It may take some time for the child to learn to sit stably on an exercise ball. Be sure to supervise the child and use caution to prevent accidents and injury when in use. The linked exercise ball comes in various sizes. The Amazon listing also includes a height chart so you know which size to purchase.
    • A mini trampoline is perfect for indoor use. This one folds for easy storage. The trampoline can be used for movement while listening to stories or content. It can also be used as a movement break between school work activities.
    • Stretchy bands can be placed on chair or desk legs to provide a bouncy resistance for active feet.
    • Fidget toys can keep busy hands and fingers occupied. Fidget cubes and spinners are popular options. A Frick Frack fidget toy and Flippy Chain may also help to keep hands occupied.

Final ADHD Tips

One of the best ADHD tips is to ensure that children are getting enough daily exercise. Recess and other outdoor time is important for physical health as well as for helping to improve attention, behavior, and cognitive functioning (Heijer et al., 2017). Adaptations to school work through changing the presentation format, the expectations, and allowing for movement may help to ensure the child can access the content while meeting their learning and movement needs.


Den Heijer, A. E., Groen, Y., Tucha, L. Fuermaier, A. B. M., Koers, J. Lange, K. W., et al. (2017). Sweat it out? The effects of physical exercise on cognition and behavior in children and adults with ADHD: a systematic literature review. Journal of Neural Transmission (Vienna), 124, 3-26.

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